From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson
Note: This is the second and final installment of this article series. It will provide a background on Orange County’s recent consideration of the medical use of marijuana ordinances relating to dispensaries.
On July 18, 2017, Orange County staff presented the Board of County Commissioners with a work session on medical marijuana. At the conclusion of that work session, the Board asked staff to prepare two different ordinances for consideration: one ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensing within unincorporated Orange County, and one allowing it.
The Zoning Division had requested consideration of both ordinances to update the County’s land development regulations as it relates to medical marijuana treatment centers and to determine whether the Board wanted to allow dispensing facilities within unincorporated Orange County.
Both of the proposed ordinances would have provided a definition section and both would have allowed cultivating and processing of medical marijuana in Agricultural (A)-1 and A-2 zoned districts, and Industrial (I)-2, I-3, and I-4 zoned districts. Cultivating and processing would be permitted subject to the following requirements: Possession of a valid state license; receipt of an appropriate building/use permit; meeting a 500-foot distance separation from schools; complying with state-approved security measures; conduction of appropriate inspections to determine compliance with the requirements.
The difference between the two ordinances involves dispensing of medical marijuana. 1 ordinance would have prohibited dispensing facilities entirely within unincorporated Orange County, while the other ordinance would have allowed dispensing facilities within the County, subject to the following requirements: Possession of a valid state license; receipt of an appropriate building/use permit; meeting of a 500 foot distance separation from schools; compliance with state-approved security measures; conduction of appropriate inspections to determine compliance with the requirements; prohibition on sale of non-medical marijuana, alcohol, drug paraphernalia, illicit drug-related products, and on the dispensing of medical marijuana in the waiting area of a dispensing facility; meeting the appropriate parking requirements; adequate seating for patients and invitees so as to avoid loitering; dispensing only between the hours of 7:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.; and possession of state-approved signage that meets the County’s Code requirements as well as any applicable Planned Development requirements.
On October 19, 2017, the Planning and Zoning Commission/Local Planning Agency (PZC/LPA) held public hearings on each of the ordinances. With regard to the ordinance that would have allowed dispensing facilities within unincorporated parts of the County, the PZC/LPA made a finding that was inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and recommended denial of the ordinance. For the ordinance that would have banned dispensing facilities in unincorporated Orange County, the PZC/LPA made a finding that was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and recommended approval of this ordinance.
The PZC/LPA recommended that Orange County’s legislative delegation request that the Florida Legislature provide greater home rule authority to local governments in the state laws relating to medical marijuana treatment centers, such as Section 381.986 of the 2017 Florida Statutes. In addition, in the event that the Board chose to adopt the ordinance banning dispensaries within unincorporated parts of the County, the PZC/LPA would like to reconsider the ban after the next legislative session.
Following the PZC/LPA public hearing, some changes to the ordinances had been recommended by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The changes presented for the ordinance that would have permitted dispensaries included the following: A requirement for cultivation/processing/dispensing facilities within unincorporated Orange County to be licensed by the state; a requirement for a deputy sheriff (as opposed to any law enforcement officer) to conduct searches of persons, places, and conveyances of any kind associated with cultivation/processing/dispensing facilities when necessary; and an addition that makes the refusal to provide proof of a valid license and cultivation/processing/dispensing authority from the state a violation of the code. Changes presented for the ordinance that would have banned dispensaries include the following: A requirement for cultivation/processing facilities within unincorporated Orange County to be licensed by the state; a requirement for a deputy sheriff to conduct searches of persons, places, and conveyances of any kind associated with cultivation/processing facilities; and an addition that makes the refusal to provide proof of a valid license and cultivation/processing authority from the state a violation of the code.
On October 31, 2017, the Board held the first of two public hearings at its meeting on each of these ordinances, listening to testimony from members of the public. In addition, the changes presented for the ordinances from the Sheriff’s Office were outlined by the County Attorney’s Office staff.
This week, the Board held the second of the two public hearings for each of the ordinances at its meeting on Tuesday, November 14, 2017, starting at 5:01 p.m. Staff provided a presentation outlining the significant provisions of each ordinance. In addition, another change had been presented for the ordinance that would have permitted dispensaries: A prohibition on recreational use within unincorporated parts of the County.
During public comment, there were around 30 people who gave testimony; not 1 of these speakers had spoken in opposition to the presence of dispensaries. The speakers spoke passionately about what the benefits of having dispensaries in unincorporated Orange County would bring. But, less than 10 of the speakers came from inside of Orange County, where most speakers resided in Polk, Brevard, and Alachua counties. Additionally, there were 30-40 people in favor listening to the meeting.
After listening to testimony from the public, the Board held a discussion prior to voting on the issue. Some of the topics discussed were what the voters want (in this case, medical marijuana dispensaries), citizens discussing the issue with their local legislators, the potential impact on the tourism industry, and the possibility of including this issue on the legislative agenda for the County (local home rule). Specifically, I raised the idea of creating an inter-local agreement in Orange County with other cities within the County to position dispensaries so that everyone in the County can have access to a dispensary less than 20 minutes away from their home. To help implement this possibility, I encouraged the public to discuss the idea with their local legislators.
At the conclusion of the Board’s discussion, the Board moved and unanimously voted to approve the ordinance permitting dispensaries in unincorporated parts of Orange County, along with growing and cultivating.